More than 100 different species have made their home in this 2,200-year-old wreck, study finds

Enlarge / The ship’s ram as it was found on the seabed off Sicily at nearly 90m depth, covered in sea life.

K. Egorov/SDSS-GUE

Shipwrecks exert an enduring fascination, both because of how they connect us to the past and because of the potentially priceless treasures that may lie hidden in their sunken remains. They are also invaluable resources for scientists interested in studying the evolution and prosperity of marine ecosystems, as sea creatures inevitably colonize wreckage, turning destruction into life. In fact, more than 100 distinct animal species have been found living on a 2,200-year-old Mediterranean shipwreck, according to a recent article published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

“Wrecks are often studied to track colonization by marine organisms, but few studies have focused on ships that sank more than a century ago,” said co-author Sandra Ricci from the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR) in Rome. “Here, for the first time, we study the colonization of a shipwreck over a period of more than 2,000 years. We show that the ram eventually hosted a community very similar to the surrounding habitat, due to the ‘ecological connectivity ‘ – the free movement of species. – between it and the environment.”

Rome and Carthage were rivals in the mid-3rd century BCE who fought three wars. The first war began in 264 BCE on and around the island of Sicily, and it lasted 23 years. Almost everything we know about the First Punic War comes from the writings of the Greek historian who became a Roman hostage Polybius, who wrote The stories about a century after the end of the First Punic War. Although there has been some debate over the accuracy of his accounts, most modern historians still rely heavily on Polybius, and his version of events is generally accepted where there are contradictions in other historical sources. .

War was finally decided on Battle of the Egates March 10, 241 BCE. By this time, the Romans had nearly gone bankrupt by maintaining a years-long blockade against the Carthaginians. They had to borrow the funds to build a fleet to extend their blockade to the last of the Carthaginian strongholds. Although the Carthaginian fleet was larger, the Romans were better trained and emerged victorious. The Carthaginians signed the Treaty of Lutace, ceding control of Sicily to Rome and even paying reparations.

Close-up of the ship's ram and the sea animals on it.
Enlarge / Close-up of the ship’s ram and the sea animals on it.

Central Institute for Restaurant (ICR)

Several artifacts believed to be from this battle have been recovered off the coast of western Sicily since 2010. For example, archaeologists have found 11 bronze battering rams from sunken warships. These thrusting weapons were mounted on the prows of ancient galleys and designed to pierce the hull framework of enemy ships. Archaeologists also found 10 bronze helmets and several hundred amphorae. All of the rams, seven of the helmets and six complete amphoras have since been recovered (the rest are still on the seabed). Based on inscriptions, archaeologists have determined that four rams came from Roman ships, while one came from a Carthaginian ship – all most likely triremes, depending on their size.

The ship’s ram that has become a dream home for so many sea creatures was salvaged in 2017. a stable marine ecosystem. “The ram trapped mineral structures and fragments (i.e. tubes and shells) of species living in the surrounding habitats carried by the undercurrent,” the authors wrote. “Thus, with its invaluable value as an archaeological artifact, the ram…highlights the dynamics of biological colonization on large spatial scales and serves as a relevant proxy for the study of marine biodiversity.”

Dubbed Egadi 13, the ram was restored in 2019. During this process, ICR scientists carefully sampled and documented all of the sediment blocks and biological materials that had accumulated inside and inside it. exterior of the hollow artifact. The samples were carefully cleaned to remove sediment, dried and sieved before being examined under the microscope. All fragmented biological remains were carefully preserved in Petri dishes for analysis.

Researchers take samples of marine animals from the ship's bronze ram.
Enlarge / Researchers take samples of marine animals from the ship’s bronze ram.

Central Institute for Restaurant (ICR)

Researchers were able to identify 114 different invertebrate species that made the 2,200-year-old ram their home, including 33 gastropod species, 25 species of bivalve molluscs, 33 species of polychaete worms, and 23 species of bryozoans. They compared these findings to species found naturally in Mediterranean habitats, hoping to learn more about how the ram had been colonized.

“We infer that the main ‘builders’ of this community are organisms such as polychaetes, bryozoans and a few species of bivalves. Their tubes, valves and colonies attach directly to the surface of the wreck,” he said. -he adds. said co-author Edoardo Casoli from La Sapienza University in Rome. “Other species, especially the bryozoans, act as ‘binders’: their colonies form bridges between the calcareous structures produced by the builders. Then there are ‘inhabitants’, which are not attached but move freely between the cavities of the superstructure. I do not yet know exactly in what order these organisms colonize the wrecks.”

“Younger wrecks typically host a less diverse community than their surroundings, with mostly long-stage larval species that can disperse far,” said co-author Maria Flavia Gravina, biologist at the University of Rome and at the National Interuniversity Consortium for Marine Sciences. “By comparison, our ram is much more representative of the natural habitat: it housed a diverse community, including species with long and short larval stages, sexual and asexual reproduction, and sessile and motile adults, which live in colonies or alone. We have thus shown that very old shipwrecks like our ram can constitute a new type of sampling tool for scientists, which effectively act as an “ecological memory” of colonization.”

DOI: Frontiers of Marine Science, 2021. 10.3389/fmar.2021.772499 (About DOIs).


Comments are closed.